Emmanuel Macron has called on Boris Johnson to keep his word over binding Brexit agreements, as the row between the UK and the EU over Northern Ireland continues to simmer at the G7 summit.
The British prime minister responded by calling on the EU to show “pragmatism and compromise”, after meeting EU leaders on the sidelines of the gathering in the Cornish seaside resort of Carbis Bay in southwest England.
According to the Elysée, the French President made it known at his breakfast meeting with Johnson that he is ready for a reset of French-British relations. But he “underlined that this renewed commitment would demand that the British respect the word given to Europeans and the framework defined by the Brexit agreements”.
Boris Johnson stressed that protecting the Good Friday Agreement was essential, Downing Street said after the prime minister also went on to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU Commission and Council presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. The 1998 peace accord ended decades of sectarian violence.
Although it has not dominated proceedings as some feared, the disagreement between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol has cast a shadow over the G7.
The post-Brexit trade arrangements have brought disruption to supplies and renewed tension between communities since they came into force at the start of the year when Britain left the EU’s economic structures.
Part of the divorce deal that Boris Johnson struck with the EU to seal the UK’s exit, the protocol keeps Northern Ireland subject to EU trade rules in order to maintain an open land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. But its effect has been to create an internal UK sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
“If six months later they say we cannot respect what was negotiated, then that means nothing can be respected,” Macron said on Thursday ahead of the G7 summit, reminding the UK that the protocol was a binding treaty.
“I believe in the strength of treaties. I believe in taking things seriously. Nothing is negotiable. Everything is applicable,” he added.
Talks between European Union and United Kingdom negotiators broke down earlier this week over the Northern Ireland protocol, raising the possibility of a EU-UK trade war.
Under the accord’s terms, certain goods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland need to be checked. London unilaterally decided earlier this year to extend a grace period — bringing EU consternation — and Britain now wants to extend that waiver to 2023.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called on the EU to be “more flexible” over the protocol, accusing Brussels taking a “dogmatic, purist” approach which threatened the Good Friday Agreement.
On Saturday he told the BBC that the protocol had to protect all communities in Northern Ireland and the economic integrity of the UK, not just the EU’s single market.
The Northern Ireland issue is also expected to be raised during other meetings Boris Johnson is due to hold at the G7 with EU leaders and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Stressing that the G7 was not necessarily the proper forum to reach an immediate solution, a spokesman for the British prime minister said on Friday that “all options are on the table” to preserve the integrity of the UK in the face of the protocol.